4 Ways To Optimise Immunity
The immune system is complex. It is our first line of defence against viruses and bacteria; a tool that the body uses to interact with both internal and external stimuli; and a barometer that gives us insight into our internal health and resilience.
Whilst most of us primarily think of immunity in relation to sickness, it’s also intrinsically linked to other aspects of our health, like mood, energy, digestion, recovery, reproductive health and more. Food, exercise, sleep, and supplements can all make or break your immunity, so here are our top tips for giving your immune system an upgrade.
1. Optimise Food
Food for optimal immunity is a balance between reducing the foods that suppress the immune system and increasing foods that bolster it. Here are your need-to-knows.
— Focus on the three Ps – probiotics, prebiotics, and polyphenols. Our gut health is symbiotically linked to our immune health, so ensuring the microbiome is diverse and well-fed is essential for immune strength. Include fresh fermented foods, prebiotic vegetables, and colourful fruit and vegetables rich in polyphenols. Green tea, oolong and jasmine teas will give you a good dose and you can add fresh ginger to enhance their effects. If you need extra gut support, consider G.I. Fix. Finally, plant variety is still essential – we love tray bakes with lots of different vegetables topped with tahini creams with added greens.
— Load up on herbs and spices. Ginger, turmeric, rosemary, oregano, cayenne, garlic, thyme and cumin all have proven benefits for the immune system, and they’ll also count towards your plant diversity goals.
— Sugar: studies have shown that ingesting meals high in sugar can depress immunity and increase inflammation for up to 5 hours. Not so bad as a one-off, but if this is happening every day – or at every meal - it will take its toll.
— Alcohol: just like sugar, alcohol is a proven immune depressant, and it works quickly. Immunity can weaken as quickly as 20 minutes after alcohol intake and can last for up to 24 hours for even moderate drinking. So, drinking in moderation is important to keep our immunity in check, but even in moderation, it’s important to counter a night out with some healthful foods, rest and supplements.
2. Optimise Exercise
— It’s well documented that exercise improves immunity, but it’s a bit of a goldilocks situation. Too little can result in low microbial diversity (and subsequently issues with immunity, mood and weight), impaired insulin response, excess visceral fat, and anxiety. Too much can exacerbate inflammation, elevate cortisol, and drain your nutrient stores (especially combined with sub-optimal nutrition). So, it’s important to strike the right balance, especially in the winter.
— Keep up with your cardio but monitor intensity. Essential for mood, gut health and the prevention of SAD, cardio is a winter staple. It’s important to vary the intensity – so LISS will be just as important as high-intensity sessions, and if your immune system is typically weak, keep intense sessions to 30 minutes or less.
— Be consistent with strength training. All types of exercise will help immunity but maintaining healthy muscle mass has the added benefit of boosting growth hormone and improving blood sugar regulation.
— If you’re under the weather, skip it and opt for a walk.
— Make yoga an immune staple, especially if you’re stressed. My favourite way to use yoga as a therapeutic tool is to implement a yin routine in the evening. It helps reduce cortisol, activates the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest), and bolsters sleep quality.
3. Optimise Sleep
We all know how important sleep is, but sometimes it’s just not possible to get enough. The good news? You can get the benefits of sleep without actually sleeping.
— Meditate – studies have shown that meditating for even 5 minutes has beneficial effects on immunity, blood pressure, memory, performance and mood.
— Yin Yoga. As previously mentioned, yin can help improve the quality of your sleep even when the quantity doesn’t change.
— Yoga Nidra. Part yoga, part meditation, part nap, yoga nidra is a practice of yoga for sleep. It is typically done as a guided meditation and can give your immune system and mood the boost it needs.
4. Optimise Supplements
— Vitamin D3 is recommended for all adults throughout the winter months, and for good reason. It strengthens immunity, is essential for hormone balance and is linked to mood. But there are also some immune heroes that are well worth taking to help support your immunity. Vitamin A, Zinc, and Quercetin are some evidence-based favourites, alongside botanical anti-virals like medicinal mushrooms, astragalus and berberine. Cellular Defence is our immune hero and can be taken regularly or in the weeks you feel you’re in need of extra support.